FPL drops controversial winter storm proposal, cites 1989 incident

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Florida Power & Light on Monday backed out of a controversial proposal that would have used a severe winter storm in 1989 as the basis for future power plant projects.

FPL filed a notice with the state’s Public Service Commission that it was withdrawing the proposal from a normally routine process for utilities to update so-called “site plans.” ten years” for the projects.

According to the proposal, the 1989 storm would have factored into plans for power plant capacity expansions and other changes to handle “peak” electricity demand during the winter. But the proposal has drawn opposition from the state’s Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers on utility issues, and other groups because it could have helped lead to potentially costly projects.

Florida Power & Light displays some of the company's equipment to restore power during an outage or other power-related emergency on May 12.  FPL on Monday backed down from a controversial proposal that would have used a severe winter storm in 1989 as the basis for future power plant projects.

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FPL said it developed the proposal after studying massive cold weather outages in February 2021 in Texas. In a statement Monday about the withdrawal of the proposal, FPL cited the Texas storm, as well as the 1989 storm and a 2010 winter storm in Florida.

“FPL has a duty and responsibility to provide 24/7 power to more than half of Florida, and we constantly forecast hot and cold weather scenarios that could realistically impact our ability to keep the lights on,” the statement read. “The 2021 Texas winter weather event that claimed the lives of more than 240 Texans is an example of an extreme scenario that could affect Florida – just as it did in 1989 and 2010. ‘there is adequate power generation during extreme weather scenarios is never an exact science. It requires long-term planning and forward thinking. The winterization approach we have filed as part of our ten-year site and our storm protection plans was created to protect our customers from these potential scenarios, but feedback offered by the Florida Public Service Commission staff, Office of the Public Counsel and other organizations indicate that they do not share our concerns.”

At a hearing last month, Deputy State Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel said the proposal would deviate from a planning process that electric utilities have long used. He and other opponents also disputed a connection to the blackouts in Texas, pointing to issues such as a different regulatory structure in Texas.

Rehwinkel called the FPL proposal a “new hypothesis”.

“For the past 33 years, neither FPL nor any other utility has seen fit to apply this historic event (1989) to its expansion, so why now? Rehwinkel said during the hearing. “Well, the answer is that there is no good evidence-based reason to change the process.”

The FPL proposal called for upgrading existing power plants to add 700 megawatts of generation capacity to meet winter peak demand. In addition, he reportedly sought to “reuse” five factories that were to be closed so that they could be used if extreme winter conditions were forecast.

At last month’s hearing, Andrew Whitley, head of integrated resource planning at FPL, said the upgrades would cost around $140 million and the reassignment costs would be “minimal”.

FPL used a planning process that involved looking at a 50% chance that a “peak load” would be higher than predicted and a 50% chance that it would be lower than predicted. But in the proposal, FPL said intense cold for several days could lead to much higher electricity consumption than expected.

“At the 1989 event, electric heating loads were so high that FPL could not meet all customer demand,” the proposal states. “This resulted in a large number of customers experiencing periods when electricity could not be supplied to their homes, i.e. customers experiencing ‘power outages’ .”

The December 1989 storm brought snow to parts of the state and caused problems such as airport and highway closures.

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